Minimize injuries from falls

PHOTO: Tara Atkinson leads a chair exercise class in one of the Greenhouses at the Harold Schnitzer Center for Living on Cedar Sinai Park Campus. At the  Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Tara leads a full range of classes from yoga sculpt to gentle yoga.


Practice makes perfect. But when you practice how to fall, you don’t have to aim for perfection – minimizing injuries may be your best option.

“Safe Falling with Intelligence and Style” is a new class that will meet four Tuesdays in May at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center beginning May 8. The teacher is Tara Atkinson, a registered yoga therapist and personal trainer who has taught exercise classes at the MJCC and at Cedar Sinai Park for nearly a decade.

Tara decided to offer the class after several of her yoga students told her about articles they had read in the New York Times and other publications about fall classes offered in Europe.

A Jan. 2, 2018, NYT article entitled “Afraid of Falling? For Older Adults, the Dutch Have a Cure” notes that falling courses have become so common in the Netherlands that the government now rates them and insurance covers part of the cost. The class in the article included students ages 65 to 94 who use an obstacle course that was clinically devised to teach them how to navigate treacherous ground without having to worry about falling, and how to fall if they do.

The class at the J will have a similar focus.

The first goal will be mindfulness of your surroundings to avoid a fall. Secondly, students will practice falling slowly. Then they will practice getting up. They will also practice getting to a phone or help if getting up is not possible.

Tara notes that as people age, many seldom get down on the floor on purpose. “The process of getting up and down is scary when it’s not part of your daily routine, and you’re not sure if you get down you will be able to get back up.”

The class will be held in the MJCC SportsPlex in the gymnastics area with mats, soft blocks and cubes so students can practice lowering themselves to the floor safely and then practice how to get up.

“We will practice falling backwards onto your bum,” says Tara. “When we fall, if you can slow yourself, you can lessen the damage. You want to lower yourself as slowly as possible; don’t jam your arms into the ground. … we will practice in slow motion – hand, hand, knee, knee,” she says demonstrating with arms stretched out with a slight bend in the elbow and doing a reverse pushup to ease the fall to the ground.

Tara now teaches a full range of yoga classes at the MJCC ranging from Yoga Sculpt, which she calls yoga on steroids, to chair yoga designed for seniors or people with physical challenges who want a slower paced program. She also teaches exercise classes at Rose Schnitzer Manor and the four Greenhouse households at Cedar Sinai Park. The RSM classes begin in a chair and progress to standing, but with the chair at hand for stability. The classes held in the Harold Schnitzer Center for Living Greenhouses are all in chairs or wheelchairs.

“I enjoy teaching to the whole spectrum,” Tara says. “Seeing old people exercise gives me perspective on working with young people. Even someone who is really fit has strength imbalances or misalignments. When I work with someone older, I see how little problems get exacerbated as we get older. I can focus on helping them stand taller to balance better to cope with what is imbalanced.”

For all her classes, Tara incorporates exercises that strengthen or increase flexibility.

“Seniors are so appreciative to have someone who can create a yoga class or an exercise program that can really fit their needs,” says Tara, who first worked with seniors as an assistant activity director in a nursing home while she was still in high school.

In addition to the falling class and Tara’s chair yoga classes, the MJCC offers numerous classes that seniors of all activity levels gravitate toward. They include Gentle Pilates, Tai Chi for Falls Prevention, Forever Fit, Arthritis Exercised and Ai-Chi in the warm water pool, and a variety of aqua aerobics in the main pool. For more information visit or call 503-244-0111.


One in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year.

Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.

Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.

Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths.

In 2014, the total cost of fall injuries was $31 billion.

The financial toll for older adult falls is expected to increase as the population ages and may reach $67.7 billion by 2020.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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